вторник, 8 сентября 2009 г.

THE BATTLE OF BORODINO



On September 7, 1812, the Russian forces led by Mikhail Kutuzov and the French army commanded by Napoleon lined up for a crucial engagement on a vast field near the village of Borodino 124 km west of Moscow. 135-thousand strong French army was confronted by 126 thousand Russians.

On the eve of the battle Napoleon had a sleepless night. Now and then he would walk out of his tent to see weather fires were burning in V.Vereschagin. "Napoleon at Borodino Hights"the Russian camp. The emperor could barely hold back his emotion and even his aides noticed that. He instructed them in an absent-minded manner, as if deep in his own thoughts. At dawn he gave a signal to attack. A large body of French infantry led a charge against the Russians on the left flank near the village of Semyonovskaya where three redoubts, called fleches, had been put up. A Russian unit under the gallant General Pyotr Bagration stood there to protect the redoubts. We have already mentioned this outstanding man, a “Russian lion” and a brilliant commander. Bagration descended from a noble Georgian family of dukes and was born to be a warrior. He spent all his short life out in the army.

Fighting raged the hottest at the “Bagration fleches”, as historians would later call them. The French assaulted vigorously but the Russians offered stubborn resistance and repulsed enemy attacks. Eye-witness reports say “soldiers on every side dropped their arms and pounced on each other, tearing off each other’s mouths and clenching their hands on each other’s throats. Guns rolled on corpses as if on a wood-paved street, pressing them into the blood-soaked earth. … Shouts of commanders and howls of despair in ten languages mixed with the deafening sounds of gunfire and drum-roll. The battlefield was a horrible sight…”

The French stormed the redoubts eight times, and each time the Russians drove them back. Finally, at the cost of enormous casualties, the enemy took the fleches. General Bagration was mortally wounded by a shell-splinter: his shin-bone was crushed. Unable to move, he was taken off his horse, and continued commanding until he lost consciousness. Bagration’s death was a shock to his soldiers. There was a brief moment of confusion after which they threw themselves into fight eager to avenge their beloved commander.

Kutuzov, who was watching the battle from one of the heights and saw the fall of the redoubts, decided to build a new defense line. To gain time for fresh troops to move in and to sidetrack the French, he ordered to strike in the enemy’s flank. The attack worked a havoc in the enemy ranks. Kutuzov took advantage of the moment to pull up reserves. The French then massed their artillery fire on another “fatal redoubt” — General Rayevsky’s battery. They lost a great number of men there, among them two generals – Montbrun and Caulaincourt. When Napoleon ordered him to crush Rayevsky’s battery, General Caulaincourt promptly replied: “I will be there alive or dead”. The Russians put up fierce resistance, the artillerymen preferring to die at their guns than step back. The redoubt held heroically but finally fell. The victory had been dearly bought. August Caulaincourt was killed at the gorge of the redoubt as he led the charge. “He died a hero’s death and decided the outcome of the battle. France lost one of its best officers”, Napoleon said. Caulaincourt was barely 34 and happily married just before the Russian campaign. He carried the portrait of his wife on his chest under the uniform.



Despite the capture of Rayevsky’s redoubt, the French failed to mount the offensive. Napoleon’s marshals urged him to sent his whole Guard to complete the victory, as yet only begun, but the emperor, having examined the new positions taken by the Russians and seeing that they would fight to the end, said: “I cannot risk my last reserve 3000 miles away from Paris” and ordered to pull his troops to the initial position. The battle of Borodino was over…

Source:The Voice of Russia

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